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by Michael Thompson, 2013 MBA Candidate
Tippie students explored the business and cultural environment of the United Arab Emirates this January during the first Global Learning Opportunity (GLO) offered in the Middle East. Students from the Full-time and Professionals & Managers programs visited three of the seven Emirates--Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi--each with its own unique business customs and culture. The trip featured meetings with top executives, visits to museums and mosques, and ended with an afternoon of sand dune bashing in 4x4s and camel rides.
One of the most valuable components of the GLO experience was the interaction with alumni--both Tippie graduates and those from other University of Iowa programs. Upon arrival, the students met with a panel made up of alumni and friends of the University, who explained what drives success in the U.A.E. and the Middle East and provided pointers on how to build a successful business in the region.
Among the alumni the group met with in Dubai was Eissa Al Meraikhi (BA Economics, '12), now an analyst at Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest investment funds in the world. "Meeting with the current students and reminiscing on my time in Iowa City was lots of fun. I enjoyed watching the students learn about my home country and helping them to enjoy all that it has to offer."
Alumnus Mohammad Al Shouli (BA Economics, ‘92) shared why he took part and what he gained from his involvement in this year's GLO: "I have always been proud to have attended the UI. During my 4 years at Iowa, I discovered who I am and how I can be of value to my world. Sharing my experience with fellow UI students is the least I can do for the institution which made that experience possible to have in the first place. We need to be available to each other around the world and I will do my part in Dubai. I had my selfish reasons, too. Connecting with you was like connecting with a wonderful time in my past that I remember fondly."
“The Iowa alumni interactions while in Dubai were awesome,” PM student Jennifer Lynch shared. “The alums talked about their Iowa years fondly, then went on to talk about their journey and how they ended up in Dubai. It was great to hear the stories of how one of the local Emirati decided to come to Iowa—you could feel his passion for his alma mater as he spoke.”
Dubai is one of the world’s top tourism destinations and a hub for international trade, with one of the world’s largest ports and a state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure. It benefits from being one of the most business-friendly places in the region and in the world.
In Dubai, Sherif Massoud (’03), Sebastian Bock (’10), and Mohamd Nagib (Engineering, ’83), arranged visits to their companies: GE Healthcare, Shell, and DUBAL (one of the world’s largest aluminum smelters), respectively. "Having the opportunity to visit [the alumni’s] companies was invaluable,” Lynch added. “It was apparent that their forward thinking and strategic insight is what has allowed them to be so successful in the U.A.E.”
The students also met with representatives from Jebel Ali Port, Dubai Chamber of Commerce, and the Emirates Group. The itinerary included visits to some of Dubai’s greatest attractions, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest manmade structure in the world, and the Palm Islands, an artificial palm-shaped island so large that it can easily be seen from space.
Tippie students traveled to Sharjah, an emirate located immediately northeast of Dubai along the coast of the Persian Gulf. In contrast to Dubai’s role as a leading trade and tourism hub, Sharjah’s highly educated leader, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi III, has dedicated much of Sharjah’s resources to furthering education in the U.A.E. and the region as a whole. Holder of multiple Ph.Ds, Sheikh Sultan helped to develop Sharjah University City, a massive educational campus that included one of the Tippie group’s visits, the American University of Sharjah (AUS).
AUS Professor Abdelaziz Chazi briefed students on Islamic finance, a system of finance that is consistent with Shar’iah (Islamic) law. Though based upon religious concepts rather than pure profit-making motives, the Dow Jones Islamic Market Index has outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past ten years, up nearly 90% as compared to the Dow Jones’ 54% increase. (To read a student blog about this visit, please click here.)
For the final component of the trip, students traveled to Abu Dhabi, the largest and most oil-rich of the seven emirates. As part of its strategy to diversify its economy, the Abu Dhabi government formed the Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC) to make investments in the technology sector. One of ATIC’s largest investments is a 100% ownership interest in GlobalFoundries, the world’s second largest semiconductor manufacturer. Students learned firsthand about the goal of the Abu Dhabi government to leverage the GlobalFoundries investment to strengthen the local electronics industry and to diversify the U.A.E. economy. Government plans include expanding local educational opportunities to obtain engineering degrees and other advanced skills that are necessary to compete globally in the electronics industry and the technology sector.
The following alumni helped make the U.A.E. GLO a success:
Mohammad Al Shouli, '92 Econ
Eissa Al Meraikhi, '12 Econ
Sebastian Bock, '10 MBA
Michael Davis, '05 M&O
Lama Farsakh, '84 MS Engineering
Sherif Massoud, '03 MBA
Mohamad Nagib, '84 MS Engineering
Shay Soltani, current PM student
One lasting impact of the trip has been the connection between students and alumni. “Getting to network with U of I alumni who are now living and working in Dubai gave us a lot of insight into what they themselves spent years learning the hard way,“ said PM student Nick Woodley. “The alumni network is a valuable, tangible benefit that you gain access to via these programs. I met a student while overseas and he is now studying back at the U of I; we meet almost weekly.”
As a result of their GLO interactions, some of the alumni in the U.A.E. are also better connected. Sherif Massoud (’03) sees the benefits of alumni involvement--and not just for the students. “I cannot tell you how exciting it was to have this visit come to fruition actually. The students were highly engaged and I am very proud of them. Some of the alums in Dubai and myself have decided to get together and work on creating the nucleus for an Iowa Alumni body in the Middle East. Maybe we needed such a visit to get the energy (and network) to get inspired.” This network is open to all graduates of the University of Iowa, not just MBA alumni. Alumni in the region can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected.
In the next year, GLOs to South America, Hong Kong/China, and the United Arab Emirates are on the short list of possible destinations. Iowa alumni located in any of these areas are encouraged to contact the Tippie GLO Program Coordinator here. Don’t miss the opportunity to network with current Tippie students and your fellow alumni!